Exercise?! I thought you said extra fries!

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Since one of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more authentic, I admit that the fun title for this post came from a little framed art piece I spotted in the aisles of JoAnn Fabrics. While I would prefer to confess my inspiration springs from all that Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare I’ve been poring over lately (NOT!) or the endless hours minutes spent in daily prayer and reflection… I’m certain God continues to seek this undeserving soul’s attention. And He will undoubtedly work with what He has. Sometimes that’s the clearance section of a big-box fabric store.

The pithy little saying painted on a rustic white-washed backdrop gave me a chuckle, not simply because they expected some schmuck to shell out $10 for a farmhouse chic clearance item, but because it struck a chord. I tend towards a contradictory mindset at this time of year since I have never been much of an exercise enthusiast. I’ve paid for gym memberships that seemed reasonably priced, but when the cost is tallied against the number of times frequented—$260 divided by three?—not such a screaming deal after all. Naturally, my sensibilities bristle against the constant barrage of media messaging: Commit to this life-altering exercise routine! Eat according to that breakthrough diet! Apply our winning strategy and corporate domination will be yours! Who says? I laughed because the annual ceremonial calendar change signals a worldly lesson on self-improvement—and we are all expected to sit up and take note. Yes, O sage 21st-century pop culture guru, speak the truth that we may all absorb it and comply. As if rock-hard abs, perfectly exfoliated skin, and a lucrative promotion are the only noble goals out there. Deep down in my soul I know that’s not true. Besides, wasn’t it St. Athanasius who said extra fries are always an inherent good? Or it could’ve been Jim Gaffigan…

This New Year’s Eve, our family attended the anticipatory Mass for the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary. The priest remarked that everyone puts an emphasis on making New Year’s resolutions to get physically fit. Yet, we Christians should know we are much more than flesh and blood. We are also mind, spirit, and soul. He wisely advised that we do something for those other aspects of our being. That doesn’t mean we neglect our bodies. Taking care of the tabernacle that houses His spirit is important. But our lives should not be ordered to that single goal which is so fleeting. We must branch out and seek what stirs our minds and souls. We must be directed to wholeness as humans. Last time I checked, having a hot bod was not a requirement for holiness.

Our sincere, thoughtful priest challenged us to make a better New Year’s resolution. He suggested we turn to Mary who we rightly celebrate as the mother of our Lord. She will always point us to Christ. Some years ago, before my faith had been rekindled, I was invited to participate in a mom’s rosary group, but I had an actual aversion to the rosary. “It’s soooooo boring!” Those mumbling old biddies in the back of the church who frankly scared the crap out of me were always grasping beads. The last time I had prayed the rosary I was in the sixth grade. Did I even know how? I also had a deep desire to connect with other moms who were losing their minds nursing babies and chasing after toddlers, so I reluctantly showed up. I was completely caught by surprise, but I shouldn’t have been. Maternal love is dynamic, ardent, and overcomes insurmountable obstacles. The Blessed Mother, in her own quiet and steadfast way, lovingly led me by a string of beads into the arms of her Son. Through Mary, I finally met Jesus. No turning back. And that should be the primary goal as we forge ahead. To work to change our hearts and our perspectives in order to continually meet Christ. That we might meet Him and journey with Him each hour of each day. My conversion years ago has led to many more conversions since—thanks be to God! I pray that He may provide the grace for many many more.

Maybe St. Athanasius didn’t actually take a stand on the extra fries vs. exercise debate, but he did spend a lifetime defending and proving Jesus is God. Not coincidentally, this same second-century saint, and doctor of the church is also credited with writing a beautiful prayer to Mary which I plan to memorize over the coming months of the New Year.

Prayer to Mary

It becomes you to be mindful of us,

as you stand near Him who granted you all graces,

for you are the Mother of God and our Queen.

Help us for the sake of the King,

the Lord God and Master who was born of you.

For this reason,

you are called full of grace.

Remember us, most holy Virgin,

and bestow on us gifts

from the riches of your graces,

Virgin full of graces.

Amen

I’m confident Antanatius would gladly get behind a resolution that involved more reflection and devotion to the Mother of God. A grace-filled 2020 to all! It’s up to you how much exercise and or extra fries it includes. I’m opting for the latter. It’ll be Lent before we know it.

*photo credit: photos.icons8.com

5 MUST-HAVE School Supplies to Keep Kids on the Path to Heaven

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It’s that time again when moms and dads across this great land finish checking off a mile-long list of obscure, annoyingly specific school supplies. We scour the internet, traipse through aisle after aisle of every big box store and office supply emporium around, trying to find the correct color, brand, and amount, at the right price. But there’s always one item at the bottom of the page that is nowhere to be found—that elusive pre-sharpened number 2 red Ticonderoga training marking-pencil with a white eraser fashioned out of rare unicorn dust and angel feathers…?

We’ve come a long way from my school days (way back in 19—ahem, never mind!) when the list consisted of at most four or five items—pencil, scissors, crayons, glue, and paper. This gets me thinking about what kids actually need to get across the finish line of school and ultimately life. Here’s a hint: you can’t get it at Walmart. What spiritual tools can I provide my children to help them navigate the more arduous path to heaven? A couple years ago, I compiled my first list: The Top 5 Must-Have School Supply Items for Every Catholic Kid. In the spirit of growing lists, I’ve added to it. For a refresher on what is at the top of my list, check it out here. Now for my 2019 new & improved edition of the essential spiritual school supply list:

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Where, O, Death is your Victory?

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For those of you who mourn the death of a loved one, this is the time when we joyfully (yet often with tears in our eyes) anticipate our eventual reunion in heaven. May the powerful hope of seeing our dear ones again, that is made possible by our Lord’s victorious Resurrection, be with you this Easter season and always. Oh, what a glorious day!

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Unplanned Peace on the Sidewalk at the Abortion Clinic

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There are those rare, fleeting moments in family life where all is strangely calm and even peaceful. Amidst the chaos of continual spats, boundless horseplay, jockeying for position, and a whole lot of random noise, quiet contentment is like a refreshing, cool rain after a stretch of oppressively, sticky-hot weather.

I can probably count those occasions on both hands. Don’t mistake me. It is not the stillness that occurs after a trip to the library when we are all happily, individually ensconced in our reading, or the brief, eerie quiet before an epic fight erupts. It’s those extraordinary times when we are resting in each other as a family. Picture a tranquil moment between a nursing mother and her baby. I remember the hours right after my dad died, when my brothers and I, a disparate group, to say the least, sat in a Denny’s, saying very little, yet joined together so profoundly. I’m speaking of a muted, but powerful connectedness—a surrender to love and understanding. Peacefully unified as we engage with one another. No one left out. It’s what I imagine to be a mere taste of the eventual glorious coming together with the Triune God in heaven.

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An Open Letter to the Motorcycle Man with the Obscene Message on His Jacket

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Dear Mr. Motorcycle Man,

Our family saw you a couple weeks ago en route to dinner. We planned to hit the parish fish fry and follow up with stations of the cross. The hope was for a fun, wholesome family-friendly evening. 

We actually heard you before ever laying eyes on you. Your big belching Harley snaked through the lines of cars behind us. In seconds you were within eyesight range in the lane next to us as we slowed for a red light. It appeared a typical Friday evening rush hour. Commuters were jam-packed on one of Denver’s busiest thoroughfares, all impatiently waiting for the green after miles of painstakingly slow stop and go traffic. The leather jacket you wore, however, was anything but typical.

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Feasting, Fasting & Perfection

What’s your take on fasting? If you’re a well-adjusted God-fearing, healthy individual, it’s always a good thing, right? Recently, God the Father surprised me by His answer.

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Why am I even thinking about fasting now?! According to the liturgical calendar, we are squarely in a season of feasting. Woohoo! Lemme at the goodies! Yesterday we marked the joyful feast of the Epiphany. Our family joined another family at a doughnut shop after Mass. And what says feasting better than greasy fried cakes covered with icing and sprinkles? Nothing in my book. While I did manage to refrain from partaking in the sugary treats this time, the truth is, ever since Christmas Eve I have taken to the feasting principle like a portly duck to buoyant waters. Who doesn’t enjoy all the great foods that accompany our jubilant holy days during the Christmas season? I single-handedly made enough pizzelles to supply the Italian World Cup soccer team for a good year. Santo Cielo!

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Beware! Are you a ZOMBIE Catholic?

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(This was posted last October and got a lot of great feedback, so I’m reposting for those of you who would like a refresher on Zombie Catholicism. I added a particular prayer at the end of the post that has helped me personally keep the zombies at bay)

Halloween is just around the corner. And as usual, I expect to see my fair share of kids trick-r-treating in their zombie get-ups: pasty white masks with dark, vacant circles for eyes, torn shirts and pants, occasionally a little flourish of fake blood splattered here or there. It’s usually the teenagers who go all out with the most gruesome costumes, but occasionally a five-year-old will greet me at the doorstep decked out in full zombie face paint and garb. I respond the same way each time. “Oh… wow…quite a costume,” I stutter with my best perma-smile. “My, look at all that blood… here’s your candy,” I murmur, avoiding eye contact while timidly dropping a couple snickers in the outstretched bag. Then I anxiously scan the perimeter to make sure there aren’t any zombie parents lurking nearby.

Don’t chuckle. Zombies exist. They dwell in our midst.

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